Bad Moon Risin’
If you are a newcomer to the Florida Panhandle, Coastal Alabama or Mississippi, you are learning what we mean by “the wet side” of a hurricane. If you you are in Louisiana, you have my sympathies. For us natives, it’s the price of living in paradise.
The wet side is the right or eastern side. Everything spins around the eye, counterclockwise, bringing in moisture off the Gulf and dumping it on the land. By the time the swirls make it around to the left side, they’ve pretty much dumped it all, so that makes the left side the dry side. How wet is it? You can’t get out my south driveway and the north driveway may soon rival the Grand Canyon as an attraction. This morning I had to go to the mailbox in an EV equipped with Mud Crusher tires.
The last tropical storm that came through to the east gave us beautiful weather. Not so, today, 250 miles from Ida’s landfall. We still have leaning trees from last year’s Hurricane Sally. It wasn’t a big one, but it nailed us, dead center, and I’m still waiting for roofers to return my call.
Fortunately, we are not getting the winds, like Mississippi is. Wet ground and winds mean the trees fall over on the power line and the lights go out. That is, they go out if you don’t have solar, battery or generator backup. And since it is a dreary, wet day, it is a good time to talk about cloudy weather solar performance.
How’s that solar working out today? In short, it sucks. If you are off grid or have a hybrid system, learn that and learn to deal with it if you know you are in for a rainy spell or worse. I switched the main circuits over to the grid to conserve battery without waking the generator. I did not go into total conservation mode, foregoing my air conditioned X-Files marathon on the big screen in the man cave. The Cave stays on solar. The house a/c is also hardwired to the solar, so battery is still providing quite a bit of power.
I’ve been watching 2 banks of panels very closely, comparing them because one is pointing south and one is pointing west. I am planning on reporting the performance comparison, but the data is useful for today’s purposes. The south bank is rated for 2700 watts and the west bank is rated for 2500 watts, so they’re pretty close. The first thing you learn is that there are degrees of “cloudy”. There’s ominous, gray cloudy. I check the meters a while ago in that state and one charge control reported that it was resting. Lazy thing. Another reported 50 watts. 50 out of 2700! There’s also medium and bright overcast. They do better, maybe cranking out 20% of rated power. So now you know why they call them solar panels. If you want the real power you have to have the sun shining.
Ok, you know it is coming, a storm or a period of overcast. If you live off grid you can’t just throw the switch. You either have to cut back or fire up the generator. In the old days of solar, when panels were astonishingly expensive, generators were run a lot. Turning $3 worth of diesel into 50 cents worth of electricity is not economical, but sometimes it needs to be done. In my system, I like to run the generator once a month for up to an hour. The system specifies running it more to equalize the lead acid batteries every 90 days and really long and hard to desulphate every 6 months. I’m considering my monthly hour, today, to exercise the generator and boost the batteries a bit.
Then there’s conservation. Cut back or eliminate a/c, if you have it. Cloudy weather naturally cuts back the need and mine has been running very little, today, with outside temp at 77F. A fan in the rooms that are occupied is great, but don’t leave the lights or fans on when you leave. If the kitchen is all electric, quick cooking in the microwave can save a lot of battery power. A Mr. Coffee or Keurig coffee maker is pretty efficient for heating water for oatmeal or noodle cups (but don’t leave the Mr. Coffee on). I grouse about the dishwasher. My wife likes to run it early in the morning when the batteries are low and before the panels get fired up and she runs it more often than I think is necessary. That uses about a kilowatt, but I try not to harp on it too much, lest I find myself doing the dishes.
I went out between showers and came in around 130pm from checking the meters and tending a few chores, to find the clothes dryer was running. That’s on the grid, mostly, but the Zero Export Grid Tie system helps out a bit…when the sun is shining or the batteries are fattened up. I had just observed that the dryer was consuming 5kw while the 2kw of solar panels were contributing 36 watts. At considerable peril to my well being, I brought this to the attention of my wife. “I know, I know. Don’t use the dryer in the morning (before the sun comes up), in the afternoon (when it draws in heat), in the middle of the day (actually that’s ok), on rainy days (no sun) or at night (no sun), right?” says she. “Yep, that’s pretty much it,” I said with a smile. I did not pursue the matter further. The electricity for the dryer cost me 65 cents and I was not injured, so I guess that’s a pretty good deal.
If there are any bullet points for this rambling dissertation….
-Anticipate expected times of low solar output.
-Cut back power consumption where you can.
-Get everybody in the house in conservation mode (be diplomatic).
-Do your scheduled maintenance generator runs during cloudy weather.